Omagh bomb questions can ‘only be fully answered with tandem public inquiries’

Families gathered this week to mark the 25th anniversary of the Omagh bombing (Liam McBurney/PA)
Families gathered this week to mark the 25th anniversary of the Omagh bombing (Liam McBurney/PA)

All questions around the Omagh bomb atrocity can only be answered by holding a public inquiry on both sides of the Irish border, a lawyer representing some bereaved families has said.

John McBurney urged the Irish Government to “reconsider” its position after a minister indicated this week that there is no new evidence which would warrant holding a public inquiry in the Republic of Ireland.

Omagh bombing 25th anniversary
The scene of the Omagh bomb in 1998 (Paul McErlane/PA)

Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were killed when a massive car bomb exploded in the Co Tyrone town in 1998, the worst loss of life in a single incident in Northern Ireland’s troubled past.

It came just months after the historic Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

No-one has ever been criminally convicted of the attack.

In 2021, High Court judge Mr Justice Horner recommended the UK Government carry out a new investigation into the Omagh bombing, and urged the Irish Government to do likewise, after finding “plausible arguments” that there had been a “real prospect” of preventing the atrocity.

Earlier this year, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris announced that an independent statutory inquiry would be carried out.

Peter Burke, Irish Minister for European Affairs and Defence, said this week during an interview with the BBC that a number of investigations, including the Nally Report, had already been carried out in Ireland into the bombing.

He said that the Nally Report had found no significant new evidence which warranted the establishment of a public inquiry, adding “that is our position at the moment”.

Mr Burke stressed that the Irish Government would cooperate fully with the UK inquiry in an attempt to ensure there are no unanswered questions left about the atrocity.

Mr McBurney, who represents some families in the Families Moving On victims’ support group, said: “On behalf of my clients I wish to convey the sense of surprise and disappointment felt on hearing the indication by Minister Burke during the BBC interview.”

He added: “With respect, it is submitted that the position outlined by Minister Burke is entirely unsatisfactory.

“The Nally Report which he referred to throughout the interview did not have the necessary powers to fully probe all matters and therefore many aspects remain to be inquired into.

“Lord Justice Horner made it quite clear in a very detailed judgment that full investigation in both jurisdictions was necessary in order to fully deal with the matter.”

Mr McBurney continued: “It is essential that the Irish Government must reflect urgently on how disrespectful and unsatisfactory it is to ignore the obvious need, in tandem with a statutory inquiry in Northern Ireland, to properly investigate by public inquiry all matters outstanding as elucidated in the judgment of Lord Justice Horner.

“The call is now for reconsideration of the negative position outlined by Minister Burke and an indication that a tandem inquiry will be launched in the Republic of Ireland.

“It is difficult to see how all aspects can be properly probed by any other arrangement.”

Omagh bombing 25th anniversary
Minister of State for European Affairs Peter Burke (left) and Lord Jonathan Caine, representing the British government, following a service to mark the 25th anniversary of the bombing that devastated Omagh in 1998 (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Irish Government has been approached for a response.

On Tuesday, a number of families who lost loved ones in the 1998 attack gathered and laid flowers at the spot where the bomb exploded to mark the 25th anniversary.